Oh no, did I leave the heir at that rest stop!?
A few years ago while looking into things relating to Smash characters that didn’t make the cut, I came across the name Ayumi Tachibana and her series Famicom Detective Club. She was originally considered for a spot on Super Smash Bros. Melee’s roster, but was ultimately cut because the team rightfully didn’t believe she had enough recognition to warrant her inclusion. From that point on I found myself incredibly curious with the Famicom Detective Club games, none of which had ever left Japan. When remakes of both titles were announced in Japan I had some hope that maybe we would see them released in the West, but still did not believe they actually would. Cut to around a year later when they announced that both would in fact be making their way to the rest of the world, and I was reasonably excited to see what they were like. Did they live up to expectations or fall flat? Let’s solve this mystery together.
Famicom Detective Club: The Missing Heir is a remake of the first game in the series, even though it canonically takes place after its sequel. The player takes control of a young man having suffered an accident that has left him with amnesia. Instead of doing what a reasonable person would do and go to a hospital, he begins to try and figure out who he is and how his accident took place. He quickly learns that he is an investigator at the Utsugi Detective Agency, and was specifically working a case having to do with one of the most prominent families in Japan, the Ayashiros. When the matron of the family, Kiku Ayashiro, dies suddenly of heart failure, the family’s butler Zenzou hires the Utsugi Detective Agency to look into the suspicious circumstances of her death. This throws our detective into a web of deceit and murder as he investigates not only the death of Kiku but the mysterious circumstances of her immediate heir.
At first glance you would not be blamed if you figured this game was just a run of the mill visual novel, but that is not entirely the case. In practice, it plays more like one of its successors, Ace Attorney, though even that is not entirely accurate. During Famicom Detective Club you will find yourself in a sequence usually involving one to three locations you can travel between. During these sequences you will be able to look around the scene or talk to the people who are present, asking them for alibis and information. There is also an option to remember, in case something’s presence at the scene may unlodge a lost memory for the protagonist. The unfortunate part is that this is still a Famicom game at heart, with seemingly very few changes made to the overall gameplay.
Generally in Famicom Detective Club, your time will be spent trying to find the one menu option that opens the way to the next sequence. Sometimes while talking to a character, the game will expect one very specific command in one specific place, sometimes multiple times, in order to make the next scene’s location available. It’s not always logical at first glance what the game wants you to do, and sometimes it feels very much like something that should have been fixed as a quality of life improvement. For example, at one point in the game your character is given a flashlight before he walks into a dark area, and I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to get him to actually use it. After a while I realized I had to hit the “Remember” button so that he would remember he had been given a flashlight not two minutes ago and pull it out. Sometimes it will require you to examine a specific thing to trigger a flag, sometimes you’ll need to ask a character about a subject multiple times, sometimes you’ll need to ask a question and then immediately examine the person, sometimes you just have to shout out for somebody multiple times. The game generally doesn’t do a great job of communicating these, and the logic never quite felt consistent. While I’m sure these mechanics were kept intact in order to make this a faithful remake, there does come a point where the game very much would have been better off with more quality of life improvements overall.
Nonetheless, The Missing Heir is still an enjoyable experience, filled with characters that are bursting with personality using what seem to be Live2D animated models, a type of character model often employed by vtubers. Characters like your fellow investigator Ayumi or the town doctor Kumada are incredibly memorable, and I had a genuinely good time speaking to them as the story moved forward. The mystery itself is nothing special, full of familiar detective story tropes and twists that admittedly aren’t all that difficult to see coming. Strangely, however, that only seems to add to its charm. It’s a story out of time, the video game equivalent of a pulpy detective novella that you’d pick up on a discount rack, but in a good way. If you enjoy stories like this, you’re likely going to walk away from The Missing Heir happy.
Overall, Famicom Detective Club: The Missing Heir is a rather dated game both in terms of mechanics and story, but it somehow manages to use both of these largely to its advantage to create a rather charming, if cheesy, experience. There are also other small features that I appreciated, such as the ability to turn off the Japanese voice acting for every character or just for the protagonist, which I made use of because while I liked hearing the other characters’ voices, for some reason the protagonist’s was oddly distracting. I also very much appreciated the ability to switch back and forth between the new arranged soundtrack and the original Famicom chiptunes, as I found myself constantly flipping back and forth just to hear the differences. If you like yourself a fun junk-food mystery, or you’re just curious about this game finally hitting western shores after 33 years, you will probably be happy spending your time with Ayumi and company.